Brewing an Iron Age Ale

Brewing an Iron Age Anatolian Ale

During the most recent “Ale through the Ages” brewing series (February 4th 2010) , we brewed up an Iron Age Anatolian Ale, which is based on molecular archaeological analysis of residues found inside bronze vessels found in a 2750 year old tomb of a king at the site of Gordion in modern Turkey (McGovern 2009:134).  In 2000, Dogfish Head Brewery recreated this recipe in a widely celebrated version called “Midas Touch” (Calagione 2006:146).  Therefore, using this basic recipe as a basis for our experimental Anatolian Ale, we brewed 10 gallons of what is sure to be a deliciously strong beer, reminiscent of a barely wine.  It had an original Gravity of 1.074 which was fermented for three days at room temperature, before adding the very sweet Muscat grape concentrate.  We can expect this unique golden ale to be a full bodied grape flavored ale with a distinct smokey finish, from the smoked barley. This delicious ale with both will gain strength and character with age.

Who Were The Phrygians?

Gordion became the royal seat of the Phrygian culture who originally migrated into Anatolia (Turkey) from Southeastern Europe ca. 1200 BCE. They were a sophisticated culture and drew influence from a variety of Mediterranean and Near East traditions. They spoke their own language and even created an alphabet, which was based on a combination of Greek and Semitic. However, their cultural influence declined after a defeat by the Cimmerians of the southern Caucasus Mountains in 695 BCE. In 278 BCE., King Nicomedes I of Bithynia (an ancient kingdom located just to the east of modern Istanbul) welcomed 20,000 European Celts (known as Galatai) to establish their presence at the ancient city of Gordion. They marched into northwestern Anatolia with thousands of warriors, civilians and merchants and quickly took up residence.

Where is Gordion?

The site of Gordion is located about 60 miles southwest of Ankara in central Turkey. Identification of Gordion is based on geographical information from ancient authors, as well as the archaeological evidence uncovered over the past century, mainly by the University of Pennsylvania Museum 1950s -1990s (Young,  De Vries, Sam, Sumner, Voigt, et al.).  The site is situated in an agriculturally rich valley, ideal for cereal grain cultivation.  In addition to the remains of several buildings identified as possible breweries/bakeries at Gordion of charred grains, germinated barley, grinders, ovens and ceramic vessels indicative of beer consumption have also been identified at Gordion.

When was the King Buried?

Particularly noteworthy evidence of a fermented beverage came from the residues found inside a large number of bronze vessels that were buried with a 60-65 year-old male who was laid to rest inside a wooden tomb, over which an enormous earthen mound was constructed.  Known as Tumulus MM (Midas Mound), this elaborate burial was believed to have been for a Phrygian King, initially interpreted to be King Midas.  However, recent tree ring analysis of the tombs timbers indicate a construction date of 740BCE, several decades before King Midas was known to have assumed the Phrygian throne. Therefore, it may be the burial of his father Gordios, after which the city became known.

What was this Kings Drink?

Buried with this elderly king were 14 pieces of wood furniture believed to have been used as serving and dining tables for a funerary banquet eaten by the mourners during the burial ceremony. There were also three large bronze cauldrons that could hold at least a 150 liter capacity.  A lion-headed bucket (situla) and a ram-headed situla were also discovered in addition to two jugs with long spouts, nineteen small jugs and at least 100 bronze drinking bowls.

Upon closer scrutiny of the residues found inside these vessels, it was determined by Dr. Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum that these residues included Calcium Oxalate which is indicative of barley fermentation, tartaric acid, which indicates grape wine, as well as beeswax compounds, which suggests a fermented honey or mead addition.  The resulting “Phrygian grog” as McGovern calls it (ibid), was likely a braggot style ale fermented with barley, grapes, honey, and the potential addition of saffron for color, taste and preservation.  If the Midas Touch ale is any indication of the unusually delicious flavors to expect, our recreation should be just as interesting, if not even better!

Designed by K.Cullen

Anatolian Ale Bottle Label


McGovern, Patrick

2009   Uncorking the Past: The quest for wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. The University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angles, CA.

Calagione, Sam

2006   Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home. Quayside Publishing Group, Beverley, MA.


3 responses to “Brewing an Iron Age Ale

  1. Being quite honest I am really curious how this Iron Age Ale tasted….. despite the taste could or not, be ok, I believe that the beer itself could be clouded and not filtered at all. And it is common sense, since people back then didn’t have any devices which could be used as a filter….

  2. Pingback: Brewing with Egil, Part V: Ealu, Beór, Wyrt, Grut, and Mealt « The Draughts are Deep

  3. in cases where it had lots of sediment, it’d either settle on the bottom or on the top. In which case, straws were used.
    The sediment, due to the fact it contained yeast could then be used to help brew the next batch 🙂

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